Shonen Knife – Osaka Ramones (Good Charamel)
By Jodi Biddle
Man, have you heard of Shonen Knife? If you haven’t, this isn’t the elitist hipster conclave I thought it was. Regardless, they’re a Japanese all-girl punk band from the 80s that are still rockin’ in one form or another; they’re tiny and adorable and angry and all the greatest things about punk (sloppy, fast, terminally contagious instrumentation, frenetic shouting, ridiculous boots) and all the greatest things about Japan (the cutest girls in any culture, neon plastic anachronistic futurism, ridiculous boots) rolled into a band. They also have a side-project, a Ramones tribute band called Osaka Ramones, which is amazing. Apparently though this shouldn’t be too surprising because covering Western songs is a huge thing in Japan.
I can remember walking into a boutique in Nagoya and hearing the deadeningly familiar strains of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’. We’ve trained ourselves to ignore shop music, no doubt a defence mechanism against the awful fucking dross that rolls around most shops, so I didn’t pay it much mind until my brain started tugging at me, going, “Hey. Hey dude. This doesn’t sound right.” So I stopped and realised this was playing:
(Incidentally that’s not even a real person, that’s a vox program called Kaito, meaning even computer programs understand how to do a cover better than Polyphonic Spree.)
It happened quite a few times, being caught cocking an eyebrow as random Japanese popped the bubble of familiarity. I just get way more excited by Japanese covers than is really necessary and I’m not sure why. It’s probably because covers should provide a very specific function: they should be similar enough as to be recognisable but different enough to offer something new and interesting, a new hook or a new interpretation.
That’s what’s so splendid about Osaka Ramones – Joey and co are well worn and closer than family now, as comfy as an old pair of sneakers and saturated with sentimental nostalgia. Hearing their songs, close to how they should be but just tantalisingly altered (with cute rockin’ Japanese girl-vocals, mostly) is enough to make you fall in love with the Ramones all over again which is obviously what Shonen Knife want you to do.
The world of J-pop (and for that matter J-rock and heaven forbid J-rap) is a totally alien landscape because it so rarely makes it to us in Australia, except by chance (in boutiques while on holiday) or through incidental cultural exposure (for instance, through anime and video games). So even if it’s cheesy and manufactured (and, god help me, a lot of it is), it’s totally new and that’s a little bit exciting.
OK no, seriously her voice actually sounds like this
I’m pretty sure this is ironic.